Maluti
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The Lone Cursader

Gopaldas Mukherjee's withered face deepens into a frown when he looks around the place he so dearly loves. You follow his gaze — and stand dumbfounded. There is temple, after temple, after temple. Some still standing, their exquisite terracotta designs preserved for centuries, others in varying stages of decay and mostly in ruins.

 

"Soon, very soon, this will all go", sighed the ex-air force soldier. "It is virgin territory for archaeology. The riverbed at  Shirali is full of Palaeolithic stone weapons but no one bothers about this treasure trove", says Mukherjee, fondly known as Batuda in Maluti, a forgotten village in the Dumka hills, on the Bengal-Jharkhand border, a mere 16 km from Rampurhat.

 

It's a land of legends — the only place in the country where 108 temples are clustered in a radius of just 350 metres.

 

In the village without electricity, Batuda is the lone source of entertainment. Every evening, he organises Ramayana and Mahabharat sessions, which draw the entire village to Bamdev temple. He is also the chief preserver of its heritage. In the twilight of his life, the ex-soldier is fighting a battle to save his village and its priceless treasures.

"We are surviving because of Batuda. Whatever little development work is taking place in Maluti is all because of him. We do not know what will happen to us after him". says villager Sanjib Roy.

 

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"Whoever comes to Maluti, Batuda takes him around, tells him some fabulous stories about each temple. He knows the temples brick by brick", says former deputy director (archaeology) of Jharkhand Government Satish Tyagi. As one step gingerly among the temple ruins, it is hard not to feel a sense of guilt. It’s somehow degrading to see the exquisitely carved stones strewn around like debris. As if to rub salt into the wound, within a stone's throw from the temples, the Jharkhand government has built two inspection bungalows each costing of Rs 1 crore. This much money would have changed the face of the village. Or saved a hundred temples.

 

Batuda, the self-appointed custodian of the temple village has turned his retirement period into perhaps the most active time of his life. Batuda in his eighty is always a ready hand guiding you to a nondescript house in the village. He is a lone crusader — relentlessly fighting to save the historic temples and his village. At this age, he walks briskly, climbs over fallen stones and pillars, reaches out precariously to point out a temple’s finer features.

 

Only his experience in the Indian Air Force stops him from being a cynic. Mukherjee has written two books on MalutiDeb Bhumi Maluti and Bajer Badale Raj, a product of his research for over two decades. He channelled the royalty from these books into preserving Maluti’s heritage.   "We do not know what will happen to us after him", says Sanjib Roy, a long-time resident of Maluti. "Gopalji is truly the chronicler of Maluti. He has worked hard on his research and knows the history of Maluti like his own palm", says Satish Tyagi, former deputy director (archaeology) of the Jharkhand Government. "It is the fascinating stories I heard from my grandmother, Narendrabala, that hooked me to Maluti's history. She lived a hundred years. She saw some of the legends that we can only read about in books. She met Bamdev (Bamakhayapa) at Tarapith. So Maluty became my obsession", says Batuda. One only hopes the soldier's never-die spirit rubs off on the villagers.